Thunder drop a tough Game 3 to the Lakers, 99-96

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BOX SCORE

Here’s the good news: You get to boo Metta World Peace at least one more time.

But man, what a disappointing loss. Two five-point leads in the fourth quarter with a great chance to go up 3-0 in the series and essentially end the thing. It’s the first playoff loss this season and it probably shouldn’t have been. The Thunder were better than the Lakers tonight. Just not on the scoreboard.

The Lakers truly won the game at the free throw line going an amazing 41-42 from the stripe (41-42!), while scoring 49 points in the second half on only 11 made shots. Think about that. Not even Dirk can pull off that kind of efficiency. That’s 4.45 points per made bucket. Oklahoma City played a solid game and it appeared as Russell Westbrook hammered home a dunk with 2:54 remaining to put the Thunder up 92-87, that they were one away from the Western Conference Finals.

One play though sticks out in my mind that was extremely pivotal, and no, it’s not Joey Crawford blowing his whistle 500 times. With 52 seconds left, the Thunder forced Kobe into a difficult jumper that clanged off the rim. Pau Gasol grabbed the offensive rebound. Kobe then missed another jumper. Steve Blake corralled the offensive rebound. The Thunder were scrambled and Westbrook wound up on Kobe and got duped by a nice pump fake by Bryant. What resulted was two free throws from Kobe and a 95-94 lead for the Lakers, a lead they didn’t lose.

Securing that rebound means you’re in possession of the ball with 33 seconds remaining and have a one-point lead. It means that either Durant, Westbrook or James Harden has the opportunity to stick a dagger in the Lakers and end this thing. It means that even if the Thunder fail to score, they’re defending with a one-point lead with about 10 seconds left. Chances are good there. (Just let Steve Blake shoot, remember?)

What does this mean? Really, it reaffirms to me that the Thunder are better than the Lakers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to win the series of Game 4 20 hours later, but it means that they should. I like to think of myself as a pretty level-headed person, but there’s no ignoring the fact that the Lakers won this game not with great defense or offensive execution. They won a free throw shooting contest. And they won it because they got more than the Thunder.

But it’s over with and done. No amount of complaining, griping or whining changes anything, so it’s about re-focusing and forgetting what happened and moving to Game 4. Because as pivotal as Game 3 was, it was more so for the Lakers than Thunder. Game 3 was do-or-die for the Lakers. It was just a chance to grab this series by the stones for OKC. Game 4 though, that’s a chance for the Lakers to legitimately make this a series again. Or the Thunder can grab it by the stones.

NOTES:

  • OK, I do have to say this, because I’ll be honest, I was fuming about some of the calls: It was pretty rough. Four whistles come to mind that resulted in eight Laker points: the two shooting fouls on Harden where he blocked Kobe, the one where Harden bumped Kobe, and the one where Kobe grabbed Harden’s arm. In a game that tight where possessions are worth more than gold, you can’t give away points like that. Now, the Thunder were returned the favor with a few for sure — the horrific call on Steve Blake comes to mind — but the inconsistency is infuriating. Harden is whistled for a bump, while Metta World Peace basically strips Kevin Durant naked every play. Doesn’t compute.
  • The Thunder started in an 8-0 hole, then a 16-4 one. And Scott Brooks did something we never see. He did something drastic. Instead of sticking with the usual rotation and sub pattern, he yanked Westbrook and Ibaka and went small with Fisher, Harden, Thabo, KD and Perk. Brooks said he wasn’t happy with the early energy and credit to him, that group put together a little run and got the Thunder back in the game.
  • However, I thought Brooks missed on two calls in the second half. 1) He left Harden on the bench too long to start the second half. Normally Harden checks in with 4-6 minutes remaining in the third, but instead didn’t come in until there were about two minutes left. Obviously Brooks wanted to keep Thabo on Kobe and was likely waiting for Kobe to sit to bring Harden in because of the foul situation, but that’s a risk worth taking. The Thunder were in a position to really take control of the game and needed Harden in to push them over the top.
  • 2) He left Westbrook sitting too long to start the fourth. Fisher was a complete non-factor and Westbrook had his game going pretty well. Plus, defensively, Fisher was getting caught in mismatches out of the pick-and-roll far too easily. Westbrook has the versatility to defend that stuff, Fisher does not. Westbrook didn’t sub back in until there was about seven minutes left in the game, which was about two minutes too late.
  • The sequence where Harden hit KD on a runout and then that transition 3 off the steal, I thought it was done with it right there.
  • There was another dust-up involving Metta World Peace in this one. Westbrook didn’t like World Peace scrapping for a loose ball, and flailed around. It’s hard to tell if Westbrook hit the back of World Peace’s knee and that’s what caused him to drop it on Westbrook, or if it was just Ron being Ron.
  • Serge Ibaka’s lack of awareness of time and situation at the end of the game was extremely disappointing. It’s super unlikely he gets it kicked to Westbrook for a 3 in the corner in time, but two points does absolutely no good.
  • Ramon Sessions showed up for the first time in the series. He had 12 points in 28 minutes.
  • Laker fans booed Harden, which I found kind of ridiculous. Obviously in response to OKC booing World Peace, but geez.
  • Are we ready to give Ibaka some credit for his defense, or are we still sticking with “Pau Gasol isn’t locked in”?
  • On the back-to-back: It should favor the Thunder. Young legs, more rested, all that stuff. But it’s the playoffs and players are going to push through all that stuff in those moments. Maybe they’ll be a little bit tired, but adrenaline is a big thing and both teams are going to battle through any fatigue. It’s about establishing something early.
  • Of note: The Thunder were 13-5 in the second game of a back-to-back this season. The Lakers were 10-9.
  • Just 13 assists for OKC tonight. Only nine turnovers though. But 13 assists, with one from Westbrook, isn’t very good.
  • KD was terrific in this game. If anything, he might should’ve been even more aggressive shooting the ball. He took 23 shots scoring 31 points, but it had the look of the kind of game he could completely take over. He played well enough for the Thunder to win though. He did his part.
  • I won’t lie, I’m kind of having a hard time getting over this. Maybe it’s because it’s the first postseason loss, but I think it’s more than a) I have a bad little taste in my mouth about the way the Lakers got their points and b) because the Thunder should be up 3-0 and on the edge of moving on. Hopefully the team can move on better than me, because with a quick turnaround, you’ve got to get over it and get ready to go.
  • I don’t know if you guys know this or not, but man, the playoffs are stressful.

Next up: Game 4 Saturday in LA.

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